Making Ndebele Magic

Nontokozo Mthimunye and Nelisiwe Mtsweni, founders of KimBands, have added a contemporary touch to Ndebele beadwork as a salute to their heritage.

September 2021


With firm roots in Siyabuswa, KwaNdebele, 140km from Pretoria, Nontokozo and Nelisiwe are making a living out of their cultural heritage.

The two met in church in their teens and quickly became friends. After school, Nontokozo (29) studied Business Management at UNISA and Nelisiwe (27) obtained a Bachelor of Social Work from Nelson Mandela University.

In 2018, they spent a lot of time together while seeking employment. Their days were spent beading, with Nelisiwe teaching Nontokozo the tools of the trade. Nelisiwe was raised by her aunt, who exposed her to beadwork at a young age, and she was only too happy to show her friend the ropes.

Nontokozo says, “I was staying in Pretoria, but I would go home a lot. We were both unemployed, but Nelisiwe ran a food outlet (Kim’s Kitchen) from her home in Siyabuswa. So whenever I was home, I’d wake most mornings to go to her place and help her out. When we were done with all the kitchen work, we’d start beading almost throughout the day.”

Nontokozo says she really lacked confidence and the first items she made were earrings – but they never sold. But she says she is a fast learner and soon friends and family were commenting on her lovely designs and creativity. She gives Nelisiwe full credit for being a good and patient teacher.

“From then on, we decided to start selling the items we made for extra cash and to keep us motivated to improve on our skill,” says Nontokozo. “We make different items from everyday bead wear to wedding accessories, cultural wear and home decor.”


We make different items from everyday bead wear to wedding accessories, cultural wear and home decor.


After receiving positive feedback from friends and family, the two decided to go the business route and form KimBands, a company specialising in creative Ndebele beadwork.

“KimBands is a combination of both our second names, Kim and Bandile,” says Nontokozo. “The bond that we already had made it easy for us to form a partnership in this business. We already knew each other’s personalities, making it easier for us to carry out the partnership.”

Starting in 2019, the business grew, as did the demand for Umbhalo (Ndebele blanket); Isrholwane (Zulu beaded neckpiece); IBhidi (Ndebele bride blanket); bridal waist beads; as well as  berets, tekkies, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, shoes, belts, photo frames, mirrors, and watches.

Nelisiwe says most marketing has been done via social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, as well as by word of mouth.

“Our target market is both the young and old generations who want to stay connected to their tradition by owning traditional beaded items. We have both cultural and modern items, and that gives us a broad range of possible customers.”

Like all start-ups, there have been challenges along the way, including working under time constraints and delivering on time – especially when it comes to unique requests that they have to create from scratch.

Events like weddings are good for business because there are usually different components to what the team needs to deliver, and there is always someone who is going to be getting married!

“One thing we love the most about creating beadwork for weddings is the energy and the joy it brings to know that somehow we are a part of making ones important day beautiful with the sentimental touch of their roots,” says Nelisiwe.

Their most popular items are the Ndebele beaded blankets and earrings customised to the client’s request.

Beaded Bookmarks

“We enjoy making these items because usually they are worn at weddings or big celebrations, and to make something special for the clients makes one feel as though they were part of the success of the celebration,” says Nontokozo.

They are very committed to seeing their business grow and the duo believes it’s possible to combine business and creativity to make a living.

“The beading market is versatile,” says Nelisiwe. “There are a lot of opportunities. To make a living from it, one has to be persistent, good at marketing, and consistent. People need to be able to trust the fact that you will deliver.”

They both feel very strongly about the work they do as a tribute to their heritage.

Nontokozo says, “KimBands is owned by proudly Ndebele women. So to be making items similar to those worn by elders is our pride. Part of our values is to conserve the knowledge and skills we have and pass it on to generations to come, just as we learnt some of the beading techniques from the elders in the beading industry. So yes, our work does represent our heritage, and that is also the most significant part of our inspiration.”

Nelisiwe and Nontokozo are inspired by many different things, including the women around them.

“The older women started at an early age and are still beading even today. You see celebrities wearing Ndebele beadwork, and to know that that item was made by the same lady we learn from is always unique and keeps us motivated to keep doing better,” says Nontokozo.

Nelisiwe points out that inspiration is everywhere.

“We find inspiration from little things like doors with patterns on them, clothing, literally anything. One would see just a door, but from our eyes, we already see a nice pattern that we could bead!”


“We find inspiration from little things like doors with patterns on them, clothing, literally anything. One would see just a door, but from our eyes, we already see a nice pattern that we could bead!”


Nelisiwe points out that being true to their heritage is key to the success of their business, but so is not only meeting but exceeding customers’ expectations.


“This pushes us always to do well and know that we are accountable for bringing a customer’s vision to life.”

Nelisiwe and Nontokozo would love to expand their business internationally and are working on getting a website together to market their work. A recent purchase has given them hope in increasing the reach of the company.

“We’ve also made a bulk order of beaded shoes for a South African lady who now lives in China and is in the retail business,” says Nontokozo. “That’s exciting for us!”

They have big plans to see their business grow from strength to strength but also to never lose sight of where they have come from and always be authentic.

“KimBands stands on the big support we have gotten from our community. That is why one of our goals is to one day pass the skill to others and give back to the people around us,” says Nelisiwe.

Contact details

0737578790 Nontokozo

0726499021 Nelisiwe


Instagram: @Kimbands_sa

Facebook: Kimbands